Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

April 6, 2014

southwesternwaterconservationdistrictmap

From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

“Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

“About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="


Snowpack news (% of avg): San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan = 83%

April 6, 2014

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The snowpack in the combined Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins was 79 percent of the 30-year median April 1; however, this week’s storms brought the basins up to 82 percent.

If it’s any consolation, the combined snowpack this April 1 is 111 percent of what it was last year on the same date.

There’s a chance late storms could increase the snowpack for the southern San Juan basins, but it’s unlikely since the maximum level is generally reached in the first week of April.

In other words, it’s as good as it’s going to get for the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel basins…

Overall, the statewide snowpack is above normal – 115 percent of the median on April 1 and 156 percent of the April 2013 number.

But storms carried less moisture in March than in previous months. As a result, the major basins showed a slight decrease in snowpack.

Only two basins – the Colorado and the combined Yampa, White, North Platte – had snowpack percentages higher than last month.

Storms have provided runoff that improved storage in reservoirs statewide.

Reservoir storage in the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel basins was 82 percent of average, compared with 66 percent at this time last year.

Statewide, reservoirs held 89 percent of their average, compared with 69 percent a year ago.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Michael Bennet):

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to strap on some snowshoes for a short hike on Berthoud Pass with local water managers and staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). They were taking a manual reading of the state’s snowpack and checking the automatic SNOTEL measurement device. Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top environmental and natural resource official, and the man who oversees NRCS, also came along.

These snowpack measurement systems, some that date back to the 1900s, are a critical part of the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting program that Colorado water officials rely on to anticipate river flows in the spring when the snow melts and calculate how much water will run off into rivers and reservoirs. Our state’s farmers and ranchers depend on these forecasts to decide how much and what type of crops to plant, while metropolitan leaders use the data to decide how best to meet their needs in the coming years and to prepare for potential flooding.

Beyond Colorado, these measurements are important for states downstream that depend on our watersheds. Colorado contains nine major watersheds, each with its own snowfall patterns and obligations to other states. While some of these water sources may be at 100 percent, in other regions the levels may be less than half of the normal supply. Many of the state’s water rights agreements are predicated on the level of snowpack making the accuracy of these measurements particularly important.

Recently, however, funding for the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program was threatened by budget cuts and sequestration.

Colorado communities from across the state shared their strong concerns that cutting funding to this program would damage the accuracy of the measurements and reduce the effectiveness of this vital planning tool. In response to these concerns, we joined forces with Colorado’s water community, Senator Mark Udall, and Congressman Scott Tipton to urge the NRCS to reconsider the cuts. After working with local

communities, water managers, and the NRCS, we secured funding for the program for this winter. In addition, we secured funding in congress for the next fiscal year.


Tough going for cattlemen in the dry southwestern part of the state #COdrought

April 6, 2014

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

“The folks on the west side of the county have been hurt worse than anyone else,” said Wayne Semler, the recently elected president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association who runs cattle and farms south of Bayfield. He has shrunk his herd between 25 and 30 percent in the last couple of years. “With no irrigation, water tables dropping and springs drying up, they’re really struggling.”

The heavy rains last fall and a predicted El Niño weather pattern, which generally brings us moisture, may make this year a little better, he said.

“Last year’s snow melted into the ground because it was so dry, so there was no runoff” he said. “This year, at least, the soil moisture’s a little higher.”

Morley said rain this year is more critical than ever as the drought continues.

“We’re all praying for rain,” she said. “Tell people we all need to pray for rain.”[...]

Most cattle ranchers run cow/calf operations, where the calves are fattened up during the summer for market in the fall.

Some ranchers feed the heifers, or mama cattle, on their own land all year long, grazing in the pasture for the summer, feeding them hay grown in their fields during the colder months.

“We fed our cattle longer than normal,” Semler said about 2013. “And our hay last year, some fields we cut once, some none at all. We had a grasshopper problem, too.”

Other ranchers, like Brice Lee, whose ranch is south of Hesperus, move them from private pastures in New Mexico, where they’ve wintered the heifers, to private pastures in Colorado for the summer.

“Last year, we only got four days of water, when we normally get 30 to 40,” Lee said. “Most everybody’s had to adjust. We haven’t harvested hay in two years, and we haven’t had a lawn for several years because we didn’t want to waste the water.”

Still others winter the cattle on their own land, moving them during the summer to pastures in the mountains where they have grazing permits on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.

More La Plata River coverage here.


Mountain system monitoring at Senator Beck Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

April 5, 2014

Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies


Click here to read the abstract and access the report:

A hydrologic modeling data set is presented for water years 2006 through 2012 from the Senator Beck Basin (SBB) study area. SBB is a high altitude, 291 ha catchment in southwest Colorado exhibiting a continental, radiation-driven, alpine snow climate. Elevations range from 3362 m at the SBB pour point to 4118 m. Two study plots provide hourly forcing data including precipitation, wind speed, air temperature and humidity, global solar radiation, downwelling thermal radiation, and pressure. Validation data include snow depth, reflected solar radiation, snow surface infrared temperature, soil moisture, temperatures and heat flux, and stream discharge. Snow water equivalence and other snowpack properties are captured in snowpack profiles. An example of snow cover model testing using SBB data is discussed. Serially complete data sets are published including both measured data as well as alternative, corrected data and, in conjunction with validation data, expand the physiographic scope of published mountain system hydrologic data sets in support of advancements in snow hydrology modeling and understanding.


The Spring 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

March 31, 2014
US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

Click here to read the newsletter.


H.R. 1839: Tipton’s Hermosa Creek Legislation Moves Forward in House

March 7, 2014

Here’s the release from U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Congressman Scott Tipton’s (R-CO) Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 1839) received a legislative hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. The community-driven legislation would protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed—a 108,000 acre area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango—as well as protect multiple use of the land.

“When it comes to land use designations, I support a balanced approach that includes respecting the environment that we all deeply value, while making the best use of our natural resources. Recreation, preservation, access and job creation are all important aspects of the multiple use management for which these lands are truly intended,” Tipton said. “I’m a firm believer that land use designations should be driven with a balance of local initiative and consideration that public lands belong to all Americans. Such is the case with Hermosa Creek Watershed, where I have worked with local citizens and groups and Senator Michael Bennet to put forward a plan to permanently protect the area while maintaining access and multiple use of the land. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has truly been a locally-driven effort and has broad community support.”

Read Tipton’s opening statement here.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has been endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others. Tipton submitted their letters of support to the record.

During the hearing, Scott Jones, a representative from the Colorado Snowmobile Association and other Colorado-based off road groups, testified in support of the legislation.

“The motorized community supports this legislation, as we believe the legislation represents a significant step towards protecting multiple use recreation and highly valued natural resources in the proposal areas,” said Jones. “For the motorized community there are two major components of the legislation we support, which are the release of the Wilderness Study area and designation of the special management area for the protection of motorized recreation. The motorized community does agree that the area to be designated Wilderness has generally not seen a high level of motorized recreation and the area is suitable for designation.”

Read Scott Jones’s testimony here.

Under H.R. 1839, much of the land will remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, hunting, fishing and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will be permitted in the entire watershed. This legislation ensures that areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for future use. This will benefit outdoor recreation enthusiasts and continue to provide an important source of economic activity for the area. If this bill is not passed, then snowmobiling will cease in this region following the 2013/2014 winter season. This legislation also contains important provisions that allow for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

H.R. 1839 will now need to receive a markup in the full House Natural Resources Committee. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) is carrying companion legislation in the Senate (S.841).

Learn more about the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act here.

From The Durango Herald (Katie Fiegenbaum):

The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (HR 1839) on Thursday. Here’s what you should know about the act and the hearing…

Within three years of the bill’s passage, a management plan would have to be developed for the area, based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, a diverse group of constituents.

About 37,000 acres of this area, on the west side of Hermosa Creek, would be designated as federal wilderness. No road, mineral or other development would be allowed inside this area.

About 68,000 acres, mostly on the east side of the creek, would be designated as the “Hermosa Creek Special Management Area.” It would remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, hunting, fishing, motorized recreation and selective timber harvesting.

Grazing would be allowed throughout the protection area.

Why is it important?

The area in the bill has long been recommended for a wilderness designation and is some of the most pristine in Southwest Colorado. The land surrounds Hermosa Creek, which flows into the Animas River and is an important water source for Durango and surrounding areas.

“Water is the most important thing we get from this area,” said Ed Zink, a Durango rancher and small-business owner, who attended the hearing. “And to protect the water, we have to protect the land.”

He says the water in Hermosa Creek is much better quality than in the Animas and provides dilution and better overall water quality.

“It’s easier to protect the Hermosa than to fix the Animas,” Zink said…

Many studies since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964 have recommended a federal wilderness designation for this land, but it has never materialized. For the last six years or so, people in the area have worked on the bill to preserve the historic use of the land and give it a wilderness designation.

“A lot of various groups worked very hard to bring this together,” Tipton said in a phone interview after the hearing. “We’ve got something that is very appealing at the local level, and it should serve as a model for writing future legislation.”[...]

The area to be designated as federal wilderness hasn’t seen a high level of motorized recreation and is suitable for that designation, Jones said…

The House version of the bill will be scheduled for markup by the full committee and voted on.

“I am confident that there will be no pushback on the bill from the committee,” Tipton said.

He thinks the bill will move forward quickly and said he would work to expedite the process.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the bill in the Senate in April 2013. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

It received a committee hearing in the Senate in November, but has yet to be voted on in committee. According to Philip Clelland, Bennet’s deputy press secretary, his office is working with the committee and is hopeful that a vote will be scheduled soon.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.


Animas River: E.coli, nutrients, mixed authority complicate water quality picture at the Colorado/New Mexico border

February 24, 2014
E.coli Bacterium

E.coli Bacterium

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

A study last year found that the level of E. coli bacteria in the Animas River just north of the New Mexico state line met water-quality standards but exceeded them in the New Mexico stretch of the river. E. coli levels in the San Juan River above its confluence with the Animas at Farmington also were above the limit.

The E. coli limit in New Mexico for a single sample is 410 colony-forming units or a monthly average of 126 CFU, said Melissa May with the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District. Colorado uses only the second criterium, she said. The CFU is measured by placing bacteria and an algae extract in a petri dish and counting the number of colonies.

But the results of the survey should be considered preliminary until a follow-up study this year is completed, a report by the San Juan Watershed Group says. The new round of testing, scheduled to get underway in April and run through October, also will look at the level of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – in the rivers…

Colorado has an interim standard for nutrients, but it has been applied only on the upper reaches of the Rio Grande and Arkansas rivers, said Peter Butler a past member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In New Mexico, limits are water-body specific, May said…

Testing was done last year at four sites, two each on the Animas and San Juan rivers, she said. BHP Billiton paid for the study, which consisted of 40 samples in all. Discrepancies in laboratory analysis of the source of E. coli require a second year of testing, May said. A different laboratory than the one used in previous years did DNA analysis in 2013, she said.

DNA analysis can indicate if the source of E. coli is avian, ruminant (cattle, sheep, deer and elk), equine, canine or human, May said. The absence of equine samples, the low number of cattle samples and a high number of human samples call into question the sensitivity of the probes and the accuracy of overall results, the watershed group report said. Bacteria levels increased the further downstream that samples were taken, both in the San Juan and Animas rivers. The highest level of bacteria was found in the San Juan River at the Hogback Canal, the beginning of the Navajo Nation near Waterflow. Preliminary results of testing at Farmington found that fecal pathogen levels in the San Juan River exceeded the New Mexico standard. A predominant source of the pathogens was human. The finding of human pathogens was unexpected and not consistent with other studies in New Mexico, the report said…

The Animas River is complicated because it flows through three political jurisdictions – Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation and New Mexico – and numerous land uses, Ann Oliver, a spokeswoman for Animas Watershed Partnership, said. The three political jurisdictions answer to different regions of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

“While preliminary data indicates a link between high E. coli from human sources in the Animas in New Mexico, this has not been documented by any study of the Animas near the state line,” Oliver said.

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


US Representative Scott Tipton Testifies on Hermosa Creek Legislation in Senate

November 29, 2013
Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), today, testified in support of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion bills in the House (H.R. 1839) and Senate (S.841) to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed–an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango–as well as protect multiple use of the land.

In his testimony, Tipton spoke on the community effort behind the legislation that is endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobilers Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


Durango: City Parks and Recreation is proposing a new plan to rope in tubers below Oxbow Park

November 26, 2013
Proposed management plan area -- City of Durango via The Durango Herald

Proposed management plan area — City of Durango via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Chuck Slothower):

A management plan under discussion by city of Durango officials would bar inner-tubers from launching from Oxbow Park in north Durango and require river floaters there to use paddles and wear life vests. The proposed restrictions come in response to a rising chorus of complaints from riverfront property owners who say they’re tired of tubers trespassing on their property, often urinating and leaving trash along the way. The restrictions would apply to a 1.2-mile stretch of the Animas north of the 33rd Street put-in to Oxbow Park and Preserve.

One provision under consideration states that “all river craft shall be propelled in this section by a paddle.” Another says, “downstream tube float trips shall not be permitted to launch from the (Oxbow) property.”

The provisions appear to leave tourism-driven commercial raft guides largely unaffected while targeting inner-tubers, who, in many cases, are local high school or college students…

Two volunteer advisory boards, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board, are considering the rules. They will meet again in December before forwarding recommendations to the City Council sometime in early 2014…

Tubers, along with rafters and paddle-boarders, often put in to the river north of 33rd Street. It’s a languid stretch of river, leading some bored or tired tubers to find landfall on the river’s banks before they arrive at the 33rd Street put-in. The problem is the stretch of river from Oxbow Park to 33rd Street is entirely lined by private land…

Residents can email public comments at rec@durangogov.org.

More whitewater coverage here.


First Small Hydro Project in Colorado Moves Forward Thanks to Regulatory Efficiency Act

November 23, 2013
Mayflower Mill

Mayflower Mill

Here’s the release from US Senator Michael Bennet’s office:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today announced that the Silverton-based San Juan County Historical Society’s small hydro project would be allowed to move forward without undergoing the burdensome and expensive federal permitting process thanks to the Hydropower Regulator Efficiency Act. The bill, which Bennet cosponsored, cuts red tape for noncontroversial hydro projects that are less than 5 megawatts.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officially announced last night that the project would not be subject to the federal permitting process, thanks to the bill, which passed Congress unanimously in August. As a result, the 11-kilowatt Silverton project will be the first small hydro project in the state, and one of the first in the nation to take advantage of this streamlined system.

“The Hydropower industry has tremendous potential to stimulate economic growth and job creation in Colorado,” Bennet said. “This common-sense bipartisan bill removes unnecessary regulations to help small projects like this one get up and running in communities across the state. We should continue to look for ways to cut through red tape and promote these types of clean, cost-effective energy sources.”

“The Feds had previously said that our project needed to apply for a hydropower license, but requiring a federal license for a tiny, non-controversial hydro project on an existing pipeline didn’t make sense,” Beverly Rich, Chair of the San Juan County Historical Society, said. The Historical Society operates the Mayflower Mill site where the new hydropower project is being built. “We’re grateful to Senator Bennet for helping us cut through this red tape.”

In addition to Silverton, projects in Telluride and Orchard City are working to take advantage of this reform under the new law.

The Hydropower Improvement Act was a companion bill to H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA).

Background Info on the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act:

Prior to the new law, the costly federal permitting requirements had been a barrier to entry for small hydropower developments. In many cases, the cost of federal permitting exceeded the cost of the hydro equipment.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act solves this problem by creating a “regulatory off-ramp” from permitting requirements for small, non-controversial hydro projects on existing conduits, such as pipelines and canals. It doesn’t change any underlying federal or state environmental statute, it simply streamlines the federal approval process.

The Colorado Small Hydro Association estimates that 100 MW of new hydro development in the state could mean 500 new jobs in various fields including developers, engineers, plumbers, carpenters, and others.

For more details on the Silverton hydro project, feel free to call Beverly Rich, Chair of the San Juan County Historical Society, at 970-387-5488.

More San Juan Historical Society coverage here. More H.R. 267 coverage here. More hydroelectric coverage here.


Durango: Construction has begun on improvements to the whitewater park as Smelter Rapids

November 20, 2013
Planned improvements for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From The Durango Herald (Vanessa Guthrie):

The construction at Santa Rita Park near Durango’s wastewater-treatment plant will result in a temporary diversion of the river trail while a crew restructures the riverbed, which will allow for more control over the intensity of the rapid.

The in-stream work is slated to be completed by March, just in time for the spring runoff.

Scott McClain, landscape architect for the city of Durango, said the riverbed will be grouted and rocks will be moved to maintain river-flow consistency. During major water runoffs, the rocks can move, changing the rapids, he said, and every so often, the rocks have to be rearranged. This structure is intended to be more permanent, he said…

After a long process of applying for a recreational in-channel diversion right through the water courts, a conditional water right was given in 2007. The water right will not be permanent until the boating park is complete, she said.

Protecting the public’s recreational access to the river was a long process, Metz said. The Animas River Task Force, a group of residents who wanted to obtain the water rights for recreation, were the initial spark commencing the project in 2005, she said…

The initial estimate for Whitewater Park was about $1.3 million, but Metz said that might be high. She said the project is contracted for about $850,000, with additional money available as a safety net in case of any unforeseen financial hiccups…

Scott Shipley, the engineer and mastermind behind the current project, is looking forward to bringing Durango back on the map as a major river-running location. This type of project is not a first for Shipley, whose company developed the hydraulic features in the whitewater course for the London Olympics. An avid competitive kayaker, Shipley is thrilled to be working on the project even though he’s far away from his home in Lyons…

Phase 1 of the project will be completed in the spring, and the river then will be open to the public. The entirety of the fully developed park with amenities will not be completed until the end of 2014, Metz said.

More whitewater coverage here and here.


State hopes to recover the $49,000 it spent stabilizing the illegal Red Arrow mill site in Mancos

November 16, 2013

Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel) via the Cortez Journal:

The state spent more than $49,000 to stabilize mercury-tainted material at an illegal gold mill in Mancos. Now the state mining board wants Red Arrow Gold Corp. to repay the money, and it moved Wednesday to revoke the company’s mining permit.

Red Arrow owner Craig Liukko did not attend Wednesday’s hearing in Denver, but in letters to regulators, he blamed the problems on a former business partner and a receiver appointed by a bankruptcy court, who has controlled access to Red Arrow’s property since April.

The state excavated and isolated soil at the mill, and it isn’t currently presenting a hazard, said Loretta Pineda, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety…

More mercury remains to be removed from the Out West mine north of U.S. Highway 160, mining inspectors said. Pineda’s division is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a permanent cleanup. And she still does not know the degree of pollution the mill produced in the past. The EPA is testing samples to figure out if there was a past risk, Pineda said…

On Wednesday, the Mined Land Reclamation Board found Red Arrow in violation of its order from August to clean up the site and pay a $100,000 fine. The board increased the fine to $285,000, increased Red Arrow’s bond and started the procedure to revoke Red Arrow’s mining permit in the next two months.

As part of the cleanup, the state removed mill tailings from a nearby pasture and the Western Excelsior aspen mill, across the street from the Red Arrow operation. Western Excelsior officials thought they were getting sand to patch holes in their lot, said Kyle Hanson, a manager at the aspen mill. The state did a good job of removing the mill tailings, he said…

The mining division spent its entire emergency fund on the initial cleanup, Pineda said. State officials want Red Arrow to repay them…

The Mined Land Reclamation Board also cracked down Wednesday on another Red Arrow property, the Freda mine west of Silverton. Both portals at the mine have collapsed, and stormwater berms have failed, allowing tainted water an tailings to flow off the site toward Ruby Creek, said Wally Erickson, an inspector for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The board fined Red Arrow $2,500 for the violations at the Silverton mine.

More water pollution coverage here.


Reclamation Selects Five Entities to Receive $485,423 to Establish or Expand Existing Watershed Groups

August 25, 2013

animasriverdurangorealestate.jpg

Click here to read the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor announced today that five entities in Colorado, Idaho and Oregon will receive a total of $485,423 to establish or expand watershed groups. The selected entities will use the funding to address water quality, ecosystem and endangered species issues.
“Collaboration is the key if we are going to meet the many water challenges we face across West,” said Commissioner Connor. “Reclamation’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program focuses on bringing diverse groups together within basins. These strong partnerships will ultimately help reduce and resolve future conflict.”

The funding is made available through the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s WaterSMART Initiative. This grant program supports the formation and development of locally led watershed groups and facilitates the development of multi-stakeholder watershed projects. The five entities selected for funding are:

  • Land Trust of the Treasure Valley in Idaho ($100,000) – The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley will establish the Boise River Enhancement Network in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, Idaho Rivers United and the South Boise Water Company. The Network will address water quality issues, endangered species and loss of natural habitats in the lower Boise River watershed and will work with stakeholders to increase opportunities for public and private enhancement project collaboration.
  • Western Slope Conservation Center in Colorado ($100,000) – The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia is an established watershed group that will use funding to address issues in two adjacent drainages above and below the North Fork of the Gunnison River to improve stream stability, riparian habitat and ecosystem function in the watershed. The watershed has been experiencing water quality issues with E.coli exceeding state water standards, selenium in the North Fork of the Gunnison River and excessive amounts of salt flowing from the river into the Colorado River.
  • Friends of the Teton River, Inc. in Idaho ($89,379) – Friends of the Teton River located in Teton County will expand a current watershed group to form the Teton Advisory Council to develop a restoration plan that identifies, prioritizes and endorses a specific series of watershed restoration and water conservation activities to improve water quality and ecological resiliency of the Teton River watershed.
  • San Juan Resource Conservation and Development in Colorado ($96,415) – The San Juan Resource Conservation and Development in Durango will expand the membership of the Animas Watershed Partnership. The partners will address concerns with the temperature, sedimentation and E. coli levels in the Animas River as well as issues related to the endangered Southwest Willow Flycatcher.
  • Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon ($99,629) – The Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District will use the funding to expand the Hood River Watershed group. The watershed group will address water supply and instream flows for threatened native fish such as the winter steelhead, Chinook salmon and coho salmon and other concerns in the watershed. The watershed group will address these issues by conducting analyses to identify and prioritize actions that partners can undertake to develop long term solutions within the basin.
  • A complete description of all projects is available at: http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/cwmp/.

    Each entity will receive half of its funding this year and if sufficient progress is made as identified in its application, it will receive the remainder of its funding next year. No cost-share was required.

    Reclamation awarded $333,500 to eight entities in 2012 in the first year of grant funding for the Cooperative Management Program of the WaterSMART initiative. Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided more than $161 million in competitively-awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities, and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program. Funding for WaterSMART is focused on improving water conservation and helping water and resource managers make wise decisions about water use.

    More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


    Upper Animas River: ‘It’s always been a heavily mineralized area’ — Bev Rich

    August 7, 2013

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    Here’s Part III of The Durango Herald’s (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister) series on the mining legacy in Silverton. Here’s an excerpt:

    After Sunnyside Gold Corp. shut down operations at American Tunnel in 1991, Silverton executed a bittersweet pirouette: With mining, its main industry, seemingly done for, the town focused on selling its mining history to tourists. Today, thousands of visitors pour into Silverton every summer, disembarking from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to tour mines, shop or playfully pan for gold.

    Meanwhile, Silverton’s abandoned mines gush toxic metals into Cement Creek, among the largest untreated mine drainages in Colorado. In turn, the metal pollution in Cement Creek is choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

    Steve Fearn, a Silverton resident and a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said the people of Silverton want mining to return. This desire, he said, partly accounts for why many residents oppose federal involvement in the cleanup of Cement Creek. In the view of mining companies, a Superfund site designation would make Silverton’s metal mines infinitely less attractive, he said.

    Bev Rich, chairwoman of the San Juan County Historical Society and San Juan County treasurer, is the daughter of a miner, and she married one. She said it isn’t surprising that many people in Silverton look on Sunnyside Gold, the last mine to close there, with nostalgia for the good days, not anger about the mine drainage. And she said while Silverton’s eagerness to see a resumption of mining might confound outsiders, they don’t have first-hand knowledge of Silverton’s past. On the pay scale, tourism jobs can’t compete with mining work. “It was $60 or $70 an hour towards the end,” she said about the wages Sunnyside once paid.

    She also said she doesn’t believe metal concentrations in Cement Creek are a problem chiefly created by mining pollution. “I look at it as mineralization. It’s always been a heavily mineralized area,” she said, an observation repeated by Rich’s fellow Silvertonians Fearn and San Juan County Commissioner Peter McKay…

    Stakeholders co-coordinator Bill Simon said mining could certainly return to Silverton “if the price was right.” But he noted that while demand for metal has grown with the globalization of manufacturing, mining officials in the 21st century have, on the global scale, tended to continue to seek out the conditions that made mining so profitable in Silverton in the 19th and early 20th centuries: places with little regulation, where metals, like human life, are cheap and abundant.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.


    ‘…the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground’ — The Durango Herald

    August 5, 2013

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    Here’s Part I of The Durango Herald’s series on cleaning up Cement Creek written by (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister). Click here for the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

    At Red and Bonita Mine, the mountain opens like a wound, oozing a sticky, white, webbed lattice over red ground. There, especially after heavy rains, toxic amounts of metal gush out from within the mountain and bleed into Cement Creek. Peter Butler, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, said Cement Creek is one of the largest untreated mine drainages in the state of Colorado…

    Like all great earthly calamities, the environmental problem posed by Cement Creek – daunting, scientific and indifferent to protest – becomes human – legal, social, financial and technological – as soon as the focus moves to solutions. In this three-day series, The Durango Herald explores what has been done about this environmental hazard, possible ways forward, and what cleaning up Cement Creek might mean to Silverton, town motto: “The mining town that never quit.”[...]

    For much of the 1990s, scientists took heart that the metals flowing into the Animas from Cement Creek were diluted by the time the water reached Bakers Bridge, a swimming hole for daredevils about 15 miles upriver of Durango. But between 2005 and 2010, 3 out of 4 of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas River beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the USGS, both the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And starting in 2006, the level of pollution has overwhelmed even the old bellwether at Bakers Bridge: USGS scientists now find the water that flows under Bakers Bridge carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

    Bill Simon, co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said cleaning up the environmental damage wrought by mining remains the unfinished business of previous centuries. “Getting anyone to pay is notoriously difficult,” he said. He noted that without robust regulation, it was common practice from the 1870s on for mining companies to take what they could and then go broke, abscond or incestuously merge with other mining entities, leaving the future to foot the bill…

    What keeps them working together? Simon, a longtime coordinator of the stakeholders group, said, “There is this overwhelming feeling: Let’s spend the money on the ground rather than in litigation.”[...]

    For a while, it appeared that the stakeholders’ collaborative effort to clean up Cement Creek was working: After Sunnyside Gold Corp. stoppered American Tunnel with the first of three massive concrete bulkheads in 1996, declining water flow from the site meant less metal pollution in Cement Creek. But Butler said that in 2004, the bulkheads stopped functioning like a cork in a wine bottle. Instead, they started working like a plug in a bathtub: Water, prevented from exiting the mountain through American Tunnel, rose up within the mountain until it reached other drainage points, namely, the Red and Bonita, Gold King and Mogul mines. Since then, Butler said, data shows that most metal concentrations in Cement Creek have “easily doubled” their pre-bulkhead amounts. He said as a result, the recent environmental damage done to the Animas has far outpaced gains made in other stakeholders group cleanup efforts, like the remediation of Mineral Creek, another Animas River tributary…

    Though federal budget cuts have seriously diminished the EPA and gutted its Superfund monies, the EPA says the mine drainage in Silverton has gotten so bad it may yet pursue a Superfund listing. And without federal intervention, even stalwarts of the Animas River Stakeholders Group say it’s not clear there will ever be enough money to clean up Cement Creek.

    Here’s Part II. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to Bill Simon, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, an organization that has tried since 1994 to ensure the Animas River’s water quality, the science behind the cleanup is comparatively simple: A limestone water-treatment plant would do the trick. The catch with this technology, he said, is that it’s expensive. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it would cost between $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. was the last mining company to operate in Silverton. Bought in 2003 by Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate that generated billions in revenue last year, Sunnyside denies all liability for cleaning up Cement Creek. Sunnyside officials argue the state released it from liability in an agreement that partly depended on its building the American Tunnel bulkheads. These are the same bulkheads that, according to government scientists, are causing unprecedented amounts of metal to leak from mines higher up the mountain and flow into Cement Creek. The toxic cargo in turn flows into the Animas River.

    Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in Silverton, said the company has offered the EPA a $6.5 million settlement – an offer the EPA is mulling. In return for the money, Perino said Sunnyside is merely asking the EPA to reiterate that it is not liable for all damage going forward…

    If Sunnyside wants the EPA to release it from liability, at $6.5 million the EPA probably isn’t biting.

    “$6.5 million is a starting point,” said Mike Holmes, the EPA’s Denver-based remedial project manager for Region 8, which includes Silverton. The EPA could turn to the Superfund, a designation that gives the agency broad powers to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and force responsible parties to pay for the cleanup.

    Perino said Sunnyside vehemently opposes Cement Creek becoming a Superfund site, noting the people of Silverton oppose it, and that the designation likely would undermine Silverton’s economy and Sunnyside’s collaborative work with the Animas River Stakeholders.

    Peggy Linn, the EPA’s Region 8 community involvement coordinator, said if Silverton would support the EPA designating upper Cement Creek a Superfund site, making it easier for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign off on the designation, the agency might have a limestone water-treatment plant up and running within five years…

    And using about $8 million from government grants and in-kind donations, the group has managed significant environmental progress, including the cleanup of Mineral Creek. It has also lobbied U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to push Congress for good Samaritan legislation. This would protect “vigilante” environmentalists from taking on liability for the sites they try to reclaim.

    During Animas River Stakeholders meetings, there is a lot more talk about exciting emerging technologies that might address the mine drainage into Cement Creek cheaply than there is hot talk about holding Sunnyside’s feet to the fire.

    An exception is Todd Hennis, owner of the Gold King Mine, who places the blame on Sunnyside and who is frustrated by others’ complacency on the subject. Metals draining out of Gold King Mine have increased tremendously since Sunnyside placed bulkheads into the American Tunnel. During a recent stakeholders meeting in Silverton Town Hall, Hennis lambasted the environmental record of Kinross Gold Corp., the mining conglomerate that owns Sunnyside. He said the only solution was for Sunnyside to remove the bulkheads from American Tunnel and pay for Cement Creek’s cleanup…

    Asked how personal tensions with Hennis were affecting the Animas River Stakeholders, co-coordinator Simon acknowledged, “we’ve all had our problems with Todd.” He said he did not like discussing it. “I think when Todd enters it, the conversation becomes kind of cheap and trite. We’ve all committed our lives to this thing.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    The drought has the City of Durango pumping from the Animas to supplement supplies #COdrought

    July 3, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the streamflow graph from the Animas River at Durango since April 1. Here’s a report from Jim Haug writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

    However you do it, the city of Durango would like you to cut back your water usage by 10 percent…

    The city’s terminal reservoir is currently about a foot below the level it should be. Officials would like to maintain it at maximum capacity so the city can respond to crises such as wildfires or a sudden loss of water.

    For most of the year, the Florida River is sufficient to meet the city’s needs with a daily supply of 5.7 million gallons, but in summertime, the city’s average of daily water usage is 9.5 millions gallons. The reservoir must be supplemented with water from the Animas River.

    The city has three water pumps at Santa Rita Park. Since the peak water usage day of June 22 when the demand reached almost 14 million gallons, the city has been able to use only one pump because the water level in the river has gotten so low.

    Because of the drought, water from Florida River is expected to diminish to 5.2 million gallons a day…

    City officials think voluntary measures might be sufficient to get through the season. Asking people to voluntarily decrease their water by 10 percent is “thought to be a first good step,” said Steve Salka, director of utilities. “These are all small changes, but they will help us maintain the water level in the reservoir.”

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    Bennet, Tipton Reintroduce Companion Bills to Preserve Hermosa Creek Watershed

    May 12, 2013

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    Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Scott Tipton are introducing a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish management for the Hermosa Creek Watershed based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which included local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens. Bennet’s bill was introduced today, while Tipton will introduce his bill in the House as early as tomorrow.

    “We are lucky in Colorado to be able to enjoy many of the country’s most beautiful landscapes in our backyards. The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer,” Bennet said. “This bill will protect this land for our outdoor recreation economy and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy. It is the result of a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community, and that cooperation helped us put together a strong bill with the community’s input.”

    “As one of Colorado’s most scenic areas, Hermosa Creek has long been treasured by the local community and by countless visitors who have explored all that the region has to offer,” Tipton said. “Local stakeholders including snowmobilers, anglers, hunters, other outdoor enthusiasts, elected officials, miners and Southwest Colorado residents have voiced their support to preserve the Hermosa Creek watershed and the multiple use recreation opportunities it provides. In response to this locally driven effort, Senator Bennet and I have joined together to put forward legislation to, without any additional cost to taxpayers, protect and preserve this special place, and ensure that Coloradans as well as visitors to our great state have the opportunity to experience Hermosa Creek’s abundant natural beauty for generations to come.”

    “On behalf of the La Plata County Commissioners, I thank Senator Bennet and Congressman Tipton for their great work for the interests of La Plata County citizens,” said Julie Westendorff, La Plata County Commissioner. “This bill protects the clean waters of our Hermosa Creek and promotes the responsible use of federal lands for the recreation that supports our economy and sustains our quality of life.”

    “We are very excited about this bill. We are hopeful that all the hard work and cooperative partnership that went into the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act will lead to the swift passage of this bill for the benefit of Southwest Colorado and all the visitors to our area.” said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner.

    “The Hermosa Creek Wilderness bill rests on a foundation of broadly-based stakeholder input,” said Dick White, mayor of Durango. “It will protect the watershed while preserving historical and recreational values. In addition, it provides protection for iconic scenic and recreational areas near the City of Durango. The bill will contribute both to the natural amenities that attract residents and tourists to Southwest Colorado and to the economic benefits that they bring.”

    “It was my privilege to represent the interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and San Juan County, Colorado during this process. Interests of the Southwestern Water Conservation District included protecting existing water rights and uses; and, the potential for future water development. The interests of San Juan County included protecting existing water quality, county road access, mineral development potential, forest product harvesting, and recreational uses,” wrote Stephen Fearn, President, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc. “Both the District and San Juan County have voted to support the proposed legislation.”

    The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will continue to be allowed in the entire watershed.

    In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed.

    Per the community recommendations the following trails all remain open to mountain biking: Hermosa Creek, Dutch Creek, Elbert Creek, Corral Draw, the Colorado Trail, Little Elk Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton-Flagstaff and Goulding Creek. Also, in keeping with the community recommendations, the following trails will remain open to motorized use: Hermosa Creek, Jones Creek, Pinkerton Flagstaff, Dutch Creek and Corral Draw. In addition the bill will allow areas in the Hermosa Creek watershed currently used by snowmobiling to remain open to that use. Also, at the request of Silverton and San Juan County, the bill ensures areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for that use.

    The bill contains several provisions to provide for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Finally, per the request of the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission, the bill would prohibit future federal mineral leasing on Animas Mountain, Perins Peak, Ridges Basin and Horse Gulch.

    Supporters of the bill include the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the Wilderness Society, Trails 2000, Four Corners Back County Horsemen, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

    More Hermosa Creek Watershed coverage here and here.


    Durango: Ambitious restoration/construction project for the city’s whitewater park to kick off in November

    May 2, 2013

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    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug):

    By using berms or coffer dams, sections of the river will be split into dry and wet sides to allow workers to get to the river bottom of the whitewater park, also known as Smelter Rapid, by Santa Rita Park and Durango’s wastewater-treatment plant.

    Contractors then will do restoration and maintenance work, such as grouting boulders into place, as well as creating a new underwater structure to allow for gentler rapids and to accommodate beginner and intermediate ability levels.

    The work is scheduled to begin in November and wrap up by next March, which also will result in a temporary diversion of the Animas River Trail to the other side of the wastewater-treatment plant and away from the river construction. This section of river trail is scheduled to get an upgrade, too, widening from 10 to 14 feet to accommodate an anticipated increase in traffic to the river.

    Plans also call for a partial relocation of the equipment yard for the wastewater-treatment plant to create a more park-like setting by the river entrance. Erosion of the shoreline would be mitigated with boulders. Officials hope to create a more graded or level access to the river that would be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    The city’s hired mastermind is Scott Shipley, a World Cup champion kayaker who also competed in three Summer Olympics and whose firm, S2O Design, also developed the hydraulic features in the whitewater course for the London Olympics. The firm currently is a consultant for the whitewater course for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro…

    Trying to place rocks strategically without knowledge of the river bottom was “always a roll of the dice,” Brennan said. “You’re not sure what the (rock) is hitting,” Brennan said. “You’re hoping it stays.” With this construction plan, “we’ll see how the rocks are touching each other. We’ll be able to put it together like a jigsaw puzzle.”[...]

    The $1.3 million project is funded by a half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2005 for parks and recreation purposes, but the project has ramifications bigger than minimizing maintenance and hopefully getting Durango “back on the map” as a destination for whitewater competitions. It fulfills a mandate of the city’s Recreational In-Channel Diversion right, which was granted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board about six years ago. “By completing the whitewater park, it gives us the right to protect the (river) forever,” said Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation. “So we could never have a diversion of the Animas upstream or a dam on the Animas. It’s a big deal for our community, not only for paddling but for environmental reasons, as well.”[...]

    “This is the flagship of the whitewater parks, or it was,” [Shipley] said. “It will be the flagship of whitewater parks again. So I hear from you. This is not a project we’re going to fall asleep on.”

    More whitewater coverage here and here.


    Will Lake Nighthorse recreation facilities be online in by 2014?

    April 9, 2013

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    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug) via the Cortez Journal:

    Almost two years after the reservoir was filled in June 2011, local government officials have not allowed kayaking, bird watching or mountain biking on the 5,500-acre site. Lake Nighthorse might be a case of politics proving to be a bigger obstacle than the laws of physics.

    About two miles from downtown Durango, the lake is a temptation for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, but it is not yet accessible to the public. Officials now are saying 2014, but they have delayed the opening before.

    To venture onto the property without permission literally is a federal offense, although judging by footprints and pawprints, people and their dogs apparently have made the trek. “We’ve had to chase out people with kayaks and canoes,” said Tyler Artichoker, facilities manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

    After budgeting almost $200,000 to open the lake this summer, Durango Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz laid out a series of complications that has moved the goal of opening the lake to the summer of 2014. The city first must annex the land so it can provide law enforcement. The Bureau of Reclamation must approve a lease agreement with the city and do an environmental assessment of the city’s master recreation plan, which was developed after much public input and consensus building about the kinds of recreation to allow. Jet skis are out. The master plan calls for a “family beach” to distinguish it from other kinds of beaches. The bureau’s environmental assessment then must be made available for public comment, which is expected to happen in April.

    Once the bureau signs off on the lease agreement, the city plans to get assistance from the Colorado National Guard for help with land clearing. An entrance station and boat-inspection area also must be built with funding from a state grant…

    “If you can name a governmental entity, it has a stake in Lake Nighthorse,” Rinderle said.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


    San Juans: Just two dust on snow events so far this winter #codrought

    March 11, 2013

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    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

    One of the leading local climate research entities in the state is the Silverton Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, which has been conducting research on local precipitation and snowpack for more than a decade. Over the years, the center has accumulated reams of data about the snowpack, and on Friday a researcher presented some of the center’s findings at the monthly EcoAction Roundtable at the Wilkinson Public Library to a crowd of more than 15 people…

    Though a lot of climate change research is focused on increasing temperatures, there are many side effects of warmer temperatures that could have a profound impact locally. One of those is dust on snow, which the center has been studying for years. Since 2004, the center has been gathering data on the amount of sunlight radiation reflected from the snowpack at sites in Beck Basin. When the snow is clean it reflects more heat and melts slower, but when covered in dust it melts faster. [Researcher Kim Buck] said almost all of the dust on snow in Colorado comes off of the Colorado Plateau. She said once the dust blows in and gets on the snow, it can speed up the melt dramatically — by an entire month in the spring…

    Locally, there have been two dust blow-ins this winter, but they were mild compared with dust storms of the past few years, notably 2009, Buck said…

    The center’s and NOAA’s snowpack data shows that this year’s snowpack is lower than last year at this time. According to NOAA information, the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basin is around 85 percent of normal. Last year it was slightly higher. Buck said it could be bad news this summer.

    “It is extremely unlikely that we’re going to catch up on precipitation,” Buck said “Last year the state was just coming off of that great big water year, so reservoirs were full. This year reservoirs are low and then we’re getting another low snow year back to back. So I think the cities in the Front Range will have a pretty hard time in the summer.”


    Durango: The city is becoming proactive in preventing wastewater spills

    February 25, 2013

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    Here’s an in-depth report about Durango’s sewer system, from Jim Haug writing for The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Water Quality Control Division has ordered the city to come up with an emergency-response plan, a sewer-maintenance program and a training program.

    The city had no such formalized plans in place as late as four months ago, said Steve Salka, the new utilities director.

    “The state was leading us in a direction, but I knew we needed an emergency action plan,” he said. “I knew we needed a spill-response plan. I knew we needed a maintenance plan. I just put it all together (and sent it to the state).”

    The city has struck a tentative agreement to spend $84,000 on backup generators for its sewer lift stations to bring it into compliance.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    U.S. Forest Service Files Several Small Water Rights to Protect Historical Uses on the San Juan National Forest

    January 6, 2013

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    Here’s the release from the U.S. Forest Service:

    The U.S. Forest Service has filed an application to perfect a portion of the Animas Service Area water right owned by La Plata County and the Southwestern Water Conservation District. The application was filed in District Court, Water Division 7, on November 29th as confirmation of a number of historic existing water uses in the Animas River basin on the San Juan National Forest, Columbine Ranger District.

    The Animas Service Area water right is a unique Colorado water right acquired in response to the recreational in-channel diversion water right owned by the City of Durango for whitewater recreation. A settlement between the City of Durango, La Plata County and the Southwestern Water Conservation District allowed for water to support a whitewater park on the Animas River, while setting aside two large water rights that are senior to the city’s allotment for current and future development.

    The Animas Service Area water right is for the beneficial uses of irrigation, wetlands and wetland
    irrigation, domestic, municipal, pond, reservoir, water feature and other evaporation, industrial, manufacturing, power, geothermal, commercial, gravel and other mining, stock, wildlife, firefighting, recreation, snow and ice making, fisheries, recharge of aquifers, and augmentation and exchange to protect other water right holders.

    The U.S. Forest Service filing will confirm 153 water rights for the San Juan National Forest, representing a cumulative total of about 2.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) of flow amounts in springs, and an additional 57.8 acre-feet of storage in Henderson Lake. To put the amounts into perspective, approximately 1 cfs of water per year is typically used to irrigate 30 acres of land in the Animas Valley. An acre-foot of water is enough water to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot.

    Most of the Forest Service claims are for surface-water rights to protect water for livestock at 137 small natural springs on National Forest grazing allotments in the Animas Basin. These uses have been in effect on the National Forest since the early 1900s, and altogether represent a cumulative total of almost 2.2 cfs.

    Other claims being filed by the Forest Service will protect existing domestic water use and lawn watering at cabins on the National Forest. These represent only about 0.13 cfs cumulative total. Claims are also being filed to confirm the ability of the Forest Service to provide drinking water to campers at South Mineral Campground (0.0043 cfs) and to continue to provide for recreation and fisheries at Henderson Lake (57.8 acre feet).

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here.


    Crystal River: Momentum building for Wild and Scenic designation

    December 3, 2012

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    Here’s an analysis of efforts to protect the Crystal River under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for The Aspen Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Thirty-nine miles of the Crystal River are already “eligible” for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Now four organizations are building local support to determine if much of the river is also “suitable” for protection under the act.

    Passed in 1968, the act allows local and regional communities to develop a federally backed management plan designed to preserve and protect a free-flowing river such as the Crystal River, which runs from the back of the Maroon Bells to the lower Roaring Fork River through Crystal, Marble, Redstone and Carbondale.

    Wild and Scenic status, which ultimately requires an act of Congress to obtain, prevents a federal agency from approving, or funding, a new dam or reservoir on a Wild and Scenic-designated river.

    And that’s one big reason why Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) and American Rivers are exploring Wild and Scenic status for the Crystal — because it would likely block a potential dam and reservoir from being built at Placita, an old coal town between Marble and Redstone.

    The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District are fighting to retain conditional water rights that could allow for a dam across the Crystal and a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir.

    The river district says such a reservoir could put more water in the often parched lower Crystal River in the fall and could also provide hydropower…

    Chuck Wanner, a former Fort Collins city council member, said at the meetings that it took 10 years to get sections of the Cache La Poudre River on the Eastern Slope designated under Wild and Scenic.

    Today, that’s the only river in the state that carries the designation and no river in the vast Colorado River basin is officially Wild and Scenic.

    When asked about that via email, Ely of Pitkin County said he thought Colorado had only one designated river because of the “lack of information as to the benefits and restrictions of the designation, and the time and dedication it takes to get it through Congress.”

    Another reason may be that once a river is designated Wild and Scenic, the federal government becomes a stakeholder on the river and has a chance to review potential changes to it, such as any new water rights. Some may feel that Colorado water law is complicated enough already.

    And then there is the fact that designation eliminates the possibility of federal funding for future water projects, which can dampen the enthusiasm of most cities, counties and water districts.

    Whatever the reasons for scarcity in Colorado, Pitkin County is ready to lead a Wild and Scenic process for the Crystal River.

    “I think the Crystal has the potential to be a nice clean straightforward effort because there are no out-of-basin uses yet,” Ely wrote. “If there is interest in going forward, we’re happy to be the laboring oar and do that work.”[...]

    While today only the Cache la Poudre River has stretches that are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the BLM is preparing a suitability study on a number of area river stretches.

    A final EIS is expected to be released in early 2013 by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office followed by a record of decision in 2014 for the following rivers and river sections:

    • Abrams Creek

    • Battlement Creek

    • Colorado River — State Bridge to Dotsero

    • Colorado River — Glenwood Canyon to approximately 1-mile east of No Name Creek

    • Deep Creek — From the BLM/Forest Service land boundary to the Deep Creek ditch diversion

    • Deep Creek — From the Deep Creek ditch diversion to the BLM/private land boundary

    • Eagle River

    • Egeria Creek

    • Hack Creek

    • Mitchell Creek

    • No Name Creek

    • Rock Creek

    • Thompson Creek

    • East Middle Fork Parachute Creek Complex

    • East Fork Parachute Creek Complex

    For more information on regarding Wild and Scenic suitability on these rivers, search for “Colorado River Valley Draft Resource Management Plan,” which will lead you to a BLM website that contains the draft EIS document.

    The BLM is also reviewing a number of stretches on major rivers in Colorado, either for eligibility or suitability, including:

    • Animas River

    • Dolores River

    • San Miguel River

    • Gunnison River

    • Colorado River

    • Blue River

    In all, according to Deanna Masteron, a public affairs specialist with the BLM in Lakewood, the BLM is currently analyzing more than 100 segments in Colorado through various land-use plans. The Forest Service also has the ability to analyze rivers for Wild and Scenic designation.

    More Wild and Scenic coverage here and here.


    Durango is set to double sewer rates over 2013

    November 24, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug):

    The plan is to double residential and commercial rates by the end of next year. Based on usage of 2,000 gallons of water, the monthly residential rate would double to $15.64 and the commercial rate would similarly increase to $21.84. Beginning in January 2013, consumers would have to pay for only a 50 percent increase because the full implementation of the rate increases would be delayed until December. So residential consumers in January would start out paying a fee of $11.75 while commercial consumers would pay $16.40 a month.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here.


    Restoration: Contractors inspect Boston Mine erosion control project near Durango

    November 10, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    State Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety officials on Thursday visited the site north of Twin Buttes off U.S. Highway 160 with seven potential bidders interested in restoring and revegetating 5 acres of steep hillside. The target is the Boston Mine, also known as Perin’s Peak No. 1, which operated from 1901 to 1926. The site produced more than 1 million tons of coal and left behind about 4,000 cubic yards of coal waste…

    The mine is within the Perins Peak Wildlife Area, which comprises 12,000 acres of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Bureau of Land Management holdings. The area is closed to the public Nov. 15 to July 15 as a winter haven for deer, elk, turkeys and snoozing black bears and in the spring for nesting peregrine falcons. The western half opens April 1 because no peregrines nest there…

    Efforts to clean up the Boston Mine site, which at one time leaked 20 gallons a minute of toxic iron, copper, manganese and zinc into Lightner Creek, aren’t new. In 1992, grants from the Office of Surface Mining and the Bureau of Mines funded construction of wetland retention ponds to treat seepage and to assess the effectiveness of certain work.

    “We stopped the leaks with the wetlands and by closing a collapsed spot that was allowing water to fill the mine workings and create seepage elsewhere,” Brown said. No seepage is seen today, she said.

    The restoration will include closing a shaft, contouring a hillside, redirecting a ditch to carry runoff to one of the old retention ponds and seeding, mulching and applying 8 inches of compost and biochar – woody material reduced to charcoal through anaerobic processing – that retains a lot of water.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


    Animas River: Wetlands project helps offset wetlands reduction in the Animas River Valley

    October 21, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The Colorado Riparian Association has awarded Patti and Ed Zink its Excellence in Riparian Management award for 2012…

    The Zinks in 2006 enrolled 80 acres of their land in a permanent open space conservation easement and created a 50-acre wetlands at their Waterfall Ranch in the Animas Valley north of Durango. The project improves water quality, provides a corridor for bird migration and conserves the aesthetics of wetland open space. The Animas River Wetlands will provide habitat for wildlife and serve as a local educational facility.

    Projects elsewhere in the county that invade sensitive areas can use the Zink wetlands to offset their impact. One recent example occurred when La Plata County used ¾ acres to improve the intersection of County Road 311 and Colorado Highway 172.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.


    The Animas River Stakeholders Group is bringing on Boston-based InnoCentive to help solve the acid mine drainage problem around Silverton

    October 20, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    The problem will be turned over to InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has 260,000 individual “solvers” eager to tackle challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and physical and life sciences.

    Members of the stakeholder steering committee Wednesday devised a tentative agenda outlining problems they want to solve. The group will meet again within a month to refine its proposal.

    “InnoCentive has all these problem-solvers who think out of the box and check in looking for a challenge,” committee member Bill Simon said. “In the end, the solution is ours to use.”

    The problem-solver and InnoCentive get paid, and it isn’t cheap, Simon said. But acidic drainage from mines is a worldwide problem, which could win financial support from mining interests, environmental groups and government agencies…

    Today, four mines – Sunnyside, Mogul, Gold King No. 7 and Red & Bonita – send up to 800 gallons a minute of iron, zinc, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, manganese and aluminum into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River at Silverton.

    The stream is so toxic that biologists think the water never sustained aquatic life.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here.


    Four Corners River Health Workshop recap: ‘The Animas knits everything together’ — Ann Oliver

    October 18, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    Two hundred people involved in water-quality issues from Silverton to Northern New Mexico described projects, compared notes and asked questions of others Tuesday. The occasion was the Four Corners River Health Workshop sponsored by the New Mexico Environment Department in collaboration with the Animas Watershed Partnership and the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District…

    “There are 35 community water systems and 22 permitted dischargers, including 16 sewerages,” Oliver said. “It also provides room and board for 25 of the birds, frogs, fish and mammals identified by states as species of greatest conservation concern and supports at least 10 fishing and boating recreation businesses.

    “The Animas knits everything together,” Oliver said.

    Additional pressure on the river is the presence of nutrients, most commonly nitrogen and phosphorus, which in excess cause algae blooms that steal oxygen needed by other fish and aquatic life. Water-treatment plants and fertilizer from agriculture are major sources of nutrients, she said…

    Peter Butler, chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission and a member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said new nutrient standards will affect Front Range dischargers long before smaller water-treatment plants such as Durango must upgrade equipment to meet standards.

    More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.


    Cement Creek restoration update: Treatment plant = $6.5 million, Annual expenses = $910,000

    October 15, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Mark Esper):

    Sunnyside Gold Corp. last October offered to contribute up to $6.5 million to address water-quality issues in Cement Creek and the Animas River, including up to $5 million to operate “a cost-effective” treatment plant to process tainted water spewing from the mine portals above Silverton. But that $5 million for operations would keep the plant running only for about five years, according to the report by MWH Global, of Boise, Idaho.

    However, Larry Perino, reclamation manager for Sunnyside Gold Corp., said the report “does not suggest that other less-expensive methodologies may not be feasible.” Perino said the purpose of the MWH Global report was not to suggest the ultimate determination of what may be the best alternative. “Rather, it is the goal of the report to set forth feasible alternatives against which other methodologies or alternatives may be measured.”[...]

    The MWH Global report looked at five alternatives, with construction costs estimated at between $4.5 million and $6.5 million, and operating costs pegged at between $876,000 and $1.4 million.

    MWH Global said that two of the alternatives stood out as “superior to the others” on a “nonfinancial screening criteria.” But it said one of those two alternatives has lower operating costs and thus “is financially superior.” The project is seen as a possible solution to heavy metals loading in Cement Creek from acidic mine drainage.

    The problem is considered so serious that the Environmental Protection Agency found the site eligible for Superfund listing last year. But lacking community support, the EPA backed off its proposed listing in April and agreed to proceed with a collaborative process with the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    The four mine portals that are the focus of attention are the Mogul, Red & Bonita, Gold King No. 7 and the American Tunnel.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Restoration: Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocks Hermosa Creek with Colorado River cutthroat #coriver

    September 15, 2012

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    Here’s a look at restoration efforts on Hermosa Creek, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. Click through for the Herald video taken on Wednesday at the headwaters. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists and volunteers, including Trout Unlimited, planted 11,000 fingerlings about 3 inches long and 200 10-inchers in the main stem of Hermosa Creek upstream from Hotel Draw. Fish were carried in bags from trucks and emptied into Hermosa Creek at various points. If the fish had to be carried any distance, they were transported in super-oxygenated water to ensure they arrived in good condition.

    Michael Martinez, a fish culturist at the Parks and Wildlife hatchery in Durango, brought the fingerlings Tuesday from the Rifle Falls hatchery in Garfield County…

    Native cutthroat trout don’t compete well with other species, so efforts to increase their population – they occupy only 14 percent of their historic habitat – focus on giving them exclusive use of certain waters…

    In pre-Columbian times, the Colorado River variety was found in all cool-water habitat above present-day Glen Canyon…

    More restoration coverage here and here.


    The second phase of the Hermosa Creek restoration project is underway — Brookies are in their gun sights

    July 28, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    Rotenone, derived from the root of a tropical plant, is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide. It degrades quickly, leaves no residue and is no threat to humans or other wildlife.

    “We did the first treatment last summer,” Joe Lewandowski, a parks and wildlife spokesman, said Thursday. “Then in June they went back to electroshock, which found fish that can live in little water.”

    The Rotenone applied this week will catch all survivors, Lewandowski said.

    In late summer or in the fall, native Colorado River cutthroat will be stocked in that section of the stream, Lewandowski said.

    More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.


    Reclamation Announces Planned Test Release from Lake Nighthorse

    July 25, 2012

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    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

    Reclamation’s Four Corners Construction Office will conduct a test flow release on July 23, from Lake Nighthorse, to continue evaluating the performance of the improvements constructed in Basin Creek to facilitate downstream water flow.

    The flow release test will continue for approximately one week depending on results, as part of the required testing and commissioning for the Animas-La Plata Project prior to the project’s transition to operational status. Released flows will range from 15 to 150 cubic-feet-per-second with the total release of water from Lake Nighthorse not to exceed 500 acre-feet. All flows released from the reservoir will pass through fish nets that ensure no escapement of live fish or eggs to the Animas River that could potentially impact endangered fish in the San Juan River.

    The Basin Creek improvements consist of a series of channel improvements and small check dams, or drop structures, and were constructed as part of the Animas-La Plata Project. The purpose of the improvements is to convey water released from Ridges Basin Dam down Basin Creek to the Animas River.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


    Senator Bennet sponsors bill that would set up protection for the Hermosa Creek watershed

    July 19, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

    Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today introduced a bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek Watershed, an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. The bill would establish a long-term management plan for the land based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, which includes local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners, grazing permit holders and other interested citizens.

    “The Hermosa Creek Watershed represents some of the best Colorado has to offer. It deserves to be protected for our outdoor recreation economy, and for future generations of Coloradans and Americans to enjoy,” Bennet said. “This bill originated from a local effort that took into account the varied interests of the community. Their collaborative approach set the tone early for a public process that led to a strong bill.”

    The bill, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall, would designate roughly 108,000 acres of San Juan National Forest land as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Area. Much of the land would remain open to all historic uses of the forest under the bill, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, selective timber harvesting and grazing.

    In accordance with the consensus recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, roughly 38,000 acres of the watershed would be set aside as wilderness, to be managed in accordance with The Wilderness Act of 1964. No roads or mineral development are permitted in wilderness areas; while hunting, fishing, horseback riding and non-mechanized recreation are allowed. The Wilderness Act also contains several provisions to provide for active land management in wilderness areas as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

    Finally, per request of the Durango City Council, the bill would protect Animas Mountain and Perins Peak near Durango from future federal mineral leasing.

    Supporters of the bill include the La Plata County Commission, the San Juan County Commission, the International Mountain Biking Association, and the Durango Herald editorial board among others.

    “We commend you for respecting the hard work of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup. We support the legislation, and stand ready to help in whatever way to see it enacted into law,” said the La Plata County Commissioners.

    “The residents of Durango support Senator Bennet’s legislation to protect Hermosa Creek in a way that respects the variety of interests in our community. We especially appreciate the inclusion in this bill of a provision the City of Durango formally requested to put our cherished local icons Animas Mountain and Perins Peak off limits to oil and gas development,” said Durango City Council Member Christina Rinderle.

    Last year, Bennet wrote an op-ed in the Durango Herald, outlining his plans to seek feedback from interested Coloradans to build on the framework the workgroup set for the bill.

    Thanks to those rabble-rousers at the Colorado Environmental Coalition (@CoEnviroCo) for the heads up.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    San Juan Mountains: Acid rock drainage predated mining activity by millennia, mining made it worse

    July 6, 2012

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    From The Telluride Watch (Peter Shelton):

    The report, titled “Natural Acid Rock Drainage Associated with Hydrothermally Altered Terrane in Colorado,” was recently given an award by the Geological Society of America as the best environmental publication of 2011. The report identifies a number of high-country streams in Colorado, including Red Mountain Creek, where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of historic mining.

    “Of course, the mining made it much, much worse,” commented Don Paulson, a former chemistry professor who is now curator of the Ouray County Historical Museum. Paulson has followed efforts to identify sources of stream pollution and the remedial measures undertaken to improve water quality in the Uncompahgre River and its tributaries.

    There was a big push to clean up the water affected by mine waste (and the role it plays in the inability of high country waterways to support aquatic life) in the 1980s. At that time the Colorado Department of Health (now Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) first sued under the Superfund Act, then negotiated with Idarado Mining and its parent company, Newmont Mining, substantial cleanups on both the Telluride and Ouray sides of the mountain. The Telluride side saw improvements to the water quality of the Upper San Miguel River. But the acid pH and the levels of zinc and other minerals in Red Mountain Creek has not changed significantly despite Idarado’s remediation in the area of the Treasury Tunnel.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Silverton: River Protection Workgroup for the Animas River meeting Thursday

    June 25, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald:

    The River Protection Workgroup for the Animas River will meet from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Kendall Mountain Recreation Center in Silverton.

    The focus of the meeting will be to discuss protection tools brainstormed for Mineral Creek and Cement Creek. No final recommendations will be made.

    The purpose of the workgroup is to make recommendations about how to protect values on the Animas River upstream of Bakers Bridge, including several tributaries, while allowing for suitable water development to continue.

    For more information, visit http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection, call the Southwestern Water Conservation District at 247-1302 or email water@frontier.net.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    The CWCB and the Bureau of Reclamation are finished hammering out the Animas-La Plata purchase agreement

    June 21, 2012

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    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Tim Feehan/Ted Kowalski/Todd Hartman):

    This week the State of Colorado and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation finalized a contract that allows the state to purchase of a portion of water from the Animas-La Plata (A-LP) Project in southwestern Colorado. This contract represents the completion of almost two years of intense negotiations, cooperation, and hard work on the part of Colorado Water Conservation Board staff and other stakeholders.

    The Animas-La Plata Project was built to fulfill a water rights settlement between the federal government and two Indian tribes that live in southwestern Colorado: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. But the project also has auxiliary benefits for other water users in the region as a much-needed municipal and industrial water source and reservoir for long-term storage in Lake Nighthorse. The state’s allocation of 10,460 acre-feet will go a long way toward securing a water supply for water users in the southwestern portion of the state.

    In 2010, the General Assembly authorized the expenditure of up to $36 million towards the purchase of the State’s 10,460 acre-feet allocation of A-LP project water. This Bill appropriated the first $12 million installment, which was available on June 30, 2011. Subsequent legislation appropriated the remaining $24 million, which will be available July 1, 2012. After the contract was signed and executed, the State made its first payment of $12 million to the Bureau.

    After July 1, 2012, the State will pay the final installment to the Bureau, retaining enough of the General Assembly’s appropriation for future operation and maintenance costs. The execution of the contract also grants membership to the State in the Animas-La Plata Operations, Maintenance and Replacement Association. Over the next few months, the State will work with other members of the Association to address issues such as engineering, modeling, water administration and protocol.

    For more information or background on the Animas-La Plata project, visit http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/animas/ or the CWCB website at http://cwcb.state.co.us.

    From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    Colorado lawmakers had authorized paying $36 million for the state’s allocation of 10,460 acre-feet from the water storage and delivery project in southwest Colorado. Money for the final payment will be available after July 1. The contract announced by the state Wednesday makes Colorado part of a group that will operate and maintain the project.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


    Animas River Workgroup to meet at the La Plata County Fairgrounds June 18

    June 15, 2012

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    From The Durango Telegraph (Tracy Chamberlin):

    The Animas Workgroup, one of five that make up the River Protection Workgroup, is ultimately tasked with putting together a list of recommendations for the future protection of the Upper Animas Basin. Since the area they’re concerned with is centered in Silverton, the group usually meets at the Kendall Mountain Recreation Center. However, the group is bringing its ideas south to Durango this week because it’s both a major population center and not everyone who has a stake in the future of the Upper Animas and its tributaries can make the trip north…

    The Animas group is diverse, and many interests are represented, but that doesn’t mean additional input isn’t welcome. [Marsha Porter-Norton, facilitator for the River Protection Workgroup] said anyone is welcome to join in, and residents planning to attend Monday night’s meeting will get a chance to be brought up to speed and find out how they can get involved in the process. They’ll hear about how the River Protection Workgroup operates and the progress made by the group, which has been working together since June of last year. The first thing the group did since forming was take a good look at the focus area, finding out who used it, what protections it enjoyed. Members even went on tours of the area. Then they identified the river’s values: what makes each segment of the Animas River Basin special and is worth protecting in the future. For example, some of the values for the segment north of Baker’s Bridge up to Silverton include boating, geology, recreation, scenery and the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. “The train is a very significant value,” Porter-Norton said.

    Meeting details:

    What: Informational Meeting with the Animas River Workgroup
    When: Mon., June 18, 6-8:30 p.m.
    Where: La Plata County Fairgrounds, Pine and Florida Rooms
    For info.: ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection

    More Animas River coverage here and here.


    Durango: The parks department has released their draft management plan for the Animas River through town

    May 2, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Jim Haug):

    “We will create amenities so they will behave more legally,” said Cathy Metz, the director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’ll create changing rooms so they’re not changing (clothes) in the middle of the street.”

    Metz unveiled a draft of the Animas River Corridor Management Plan during a public hearing at the Durango Community Recreation Center.

    The proposed plan will also be discussed with citizen advisory boards this month before a revised version goes to the City Council for a vote.

    City staff wrote the plan for managing recreation along 16 miles of river after soliciting input from interest groups as varied as homeowners, rafters, anglers and conservationists from a series of meetings held earlier this year.

    More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


    Silverton: The San Juan Hardrock Mining and Water Quality Conference is scheduled for April 26-27

    April 20, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

    Environmentalists, government officials, academics and industry representatives are scheduled to address the San Juan Hardrock Mining and Water Quality Conference on April 26-27 at the Kendall Mountain Recreation Center. Strong sponsorship by a variety of entities allows the conference to be offered free, said Chris Peltz of the Mountain Studies Institute, the event coordinator. “The conference has been in the planning for months and months,” Peltz said Tuesday. “The purpose is to increase the understanding of issues affecting mining and water issues.”

    The focus of the presentations April 26 will be the upper Animas River where toxic drainage from abandoned mines has compromised water quality, Peltz said…

    Speakers will dominate the first day of the conference this year. Visits to the historic Mayflower Mill and the former mining community of Gladstone are scheduled April 27.

    Among the speakers April 26 will be: Loretta Pineda, director of the Colorado Division of Mining, Safety and Reclamation; Larry Perino from the Sunnyside Gold Corp.; Mike Holmes, an Environmental Protection Agency expert on mine remediation and Superfund projects; Peter Butler from the Animas River Stakeholders Group and chairman of the state Water Quality Control Commission; John Ridley from Colorado State University; and Doug Yager from the U.S. Geological Survey.

    More Animas River coverage here and here.


    Your Colorado Water Blog: Nutrient pollution will be the hot topic at the Animas Watershed Partnership meeting on Monday

    April 19, 2012

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    Here’s a new blog post about Monday’s meeting, from the San Juan Watershed Group running on Your Colorado Water Blog. From the post:

    By the time the Animas reaches the New Mexico border, its water is already out of compliance with New Mexico water quality standards for total phosphorus, E. coli bacteria, sediment, and turbidity. When it reaches Aztec, impairment for nutrients and indicators of eutrophication are added to the mix. The New Mexico Environment Department added a whopping seven water quality impairments on New Mexico stretches of the Animas to its 2012 303(d) list of impaired waters .

    While this might tempt some groups to point a finger of blame upstream, the Animas Watershed Partnership (AWP) is taking a different approach. The AWP started as an offshoot of the Farmington, New Mexico based San Juan Watershed Group, and was formed to specifically address the problems of nutrient pollution in the Animas across state and tribal boundaries. The AWP steering committee is comprised of both government and citizen members from three jurisdictions – Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and New Mexico – and it alternates its meetings between Durango, Ignacio and Farmington in order to give equal voice to the concerns of all stakeholders.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.


    The Colorado Legislature intends to pony up $36 million for Animas-La Plata Project water

    April 15, 2012

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    From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Durango Herald:

    Colorado’s Legislature has authorized paying $36 million to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for its share of 10,460 acre-feet of water, plus interest on construction costs. But the interest has been building, and the $36 million likely won’t cover everything Colorado owes.

    The tribes had proposed that Colorado allow its share of water to revert back to the tribes, which weren’t assessed for construction. The tribes then would sell the water back to the state at what they say would be a much lower price than what the state would pay the bureau.

    “When we heard what the state would spend to get water, our first thought was, ‘Why?’” said Peter Ortego, general counsel for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. “We can make it cheaper for the state. Sure, it puts money in our coffers, but it keeps it in Colorado.”

    However, after two years of talking with tribal representatives, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has directed its staff to move forward on contract talks with the Bureau of Reclamation, board director Jennifer Gimbel said.

    Gimbel said the board took the tribes’ proposal “very seriously.” However, some board members questioned whether outside parties would challenge the proposal in court. Though legislators already have approved $36 million for project water, some board members also questioned how willing legislators would be in future years to spend on Animas-La Plata Project water.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


    Environmental Working Group: The drinking water used by millions of Americans is contaminated!

    April 12, 2012

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    Colorado is debating new standards for nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater streams to reduce nutrients in surface water ahead of a federal mandate.

    Here’s a research paper on the problem from the Environmental Working Group (Olga V. Naidenko/Craig Cox/Nils Bruzelius). Here’s the executive summary:

    Water that runs off fields treated with chemical fertilizers and manure is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, two potent pollutants that inevitably end up in rivers and lakes and set off a cascade of harmful consequences, contaminating the drinking water used by millions of Americans. Treating this water after the fact to clean up the contamination is increasingly expensive, difficult and, if current trends continue, ultimately unsustainable. The only solution that will preserve the clean, healthy and tasty drinking water that people expect is to tackle the problem at the source. This paper explains why.

    Nitrate, the most common form of nitrogen in surface and groundwater, is directly toxic to human health. Infants who drink water with high nitrate levels can develop an acute, life-threatening blood disorder called blue baby syndrome. high nitrate levels in water can also affect thyroid function in adults and increase the risk of thyroid cancer.

    Phosphorus stimulates explosive blooms of aquatic algae, including the especially dangerous cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that produce toxins that can be deadly to pets, livestock, wildlife – and people. Toxins pro- duced by cyanobacteria can harm the nervous system, cause stomach and intestinal illness and kidney disease, trigger allergic responses and damage the liver. Even after a brief exposure, cyanobacterial toxins can cause skin rashes, eye irritation and breathing problems.

    The cascade continues when utilities try to combat these and other threats by treating drinking water with chemical disinfectants such as chlorine. Treating algal contamination this way gives rise to carcinogenic disinfection byproducts, whose levels typically spike during the summer months – when algae blooms peak. Commonly used measures to reduce algal contamination add hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to water utilities’ treatment costs. Algae can also give tap water an unpleasant taste and smell, a recurrent annoyance for agricultural areas and the water utilities that serve them.

    This report focused on four states in the core of the Midwestern corn belt – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Nutrient overload in surface and groundwater is a significant water quality problem for these states, making nitrate and phosphorus levels higher and algal blooms more frequent compared to national averages.

    To tackle polluted source water, water utilities in the region are often forced to install expensive treatment plants that can cost millions to install and operate. USDA economists estimate that removing nitrate alone from drinking water costs more than $4.8 billion a year. The cost of dealing with algal blooms is particularly daunting. The total capital cost of water treatment that would address cyanobacterial blooms and cyanotoxins, can range between $12 million and $56 million for a town of 100,000 people.

    The only true solution is to confront the issue upstream, at the point where pollution – much of it from farms – first flows into America’s precious surface water and groundwater. This year’s debate over renewing the federal farm bill is a referendum on America’s commitment to protecting our drinking water supplies at the source.

    With the exception of large animal feeding operations, farm businesses are exempt from the pollution control requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, and few states have authority to compel farm businesses to adopt practices that reduce the amount of farm pollution reaching our rivers, lakes and bays. As a result, the farm bill, which is renewed every five years, serves as the primary tool for addressing the environmental damage caused by polluted runoff from agricultural operations.

    Congress should take three steps to ensure the new farm bill protects drinking water:

    · Reform Farm Subsidies – Congress should end direct payments, reduce subsidies for farm insurance programs and refuse to create new farm entitlement programs that encourage all-out production to the detriment of the environment. Instead, lawmakers should help farmers when they suffer deep losses in yields and provide options for them to purchase additional crop and revenue insurance at their own expense.

    · Renew the Conservation Compact — Congress should renew the “conservation compliance” provisions of the 1985 farm bill by relinking wetland and soil protection requirements to crop insurance programs. In addition, legislators should require farm businesses that receive subsidies to update their conservation plans and should strengthen the government’s enforcement tools.

    · Strengthen Conservation Incentive Programs – Congress should strengthen programs that reward farmers who take steps to protect sources of drinking water. In addition to providing adequate fund- ing, Congress should expand “collaborative conservation” tools that award funds to groups of farmers working together to protect drinking water sources. Greater focus should be placed on restoring buffers and wetlands that filter runoff of farm pollutants.

    Meanwhile, here’s a analysis closer to home from Dan Randolph running in The Durango Herald. From the article:

    In 2002, the Animas River through Durango experienced algae blooms, and with the possibility of low water levels again this year, the risk is again on some of our minds. Right now, the Animas River in New Mexico, from the state line down to Farmington, where it joins with the San Juan, is out of compliance with New Mexico’s nutrient standards. This is not a theoretical issue…

    For a decade, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission and hundreds of stakeholders from throughout the state have wrestled with developing nutrient standards for Colorado’s rivers and streams. In March, the commission preliminarily adopted a two-pronged approach to nutrients that reflects Colorado’s needs and abilities. The proposed rules recognize that meeting new standards will take both time and flexibility. The rules include a generous implementation timeline for wastewater treatment plants to upgrade their systems, and voluntary programs for farmers and ranchers.

    The system the Water Quality Control Commission has set out will be refined to meet the individual needs of each stream or river during the regular review of water-quality standards done for metals and other pollutants, and treatment-plant reviews. Known as the triennial review process, each of Colorado’s nine river basins is studied in turn, and standards are determined. Under the new rules, these standards will now also include nutrients. The San Juan, Dolores and Gunnison basins will undergo this review process later this year.

    More wastewater coverage here and here.


    Southwest Basin Roundtable non-consumptive needs workshop April 11

    April 4, 2012

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    From email from the Colorado Watershed Assembly:

    There will be an Non-Consumptive Needs Workshop next Wednesday, April 11th from 11:30-2:30 at the Dolores Water Conservation District offices in Cortez. This workshop is hosted by the Non-Consumptive Needs Subcommittee of the Southwest Basins Roundtable and the State.

    The full Roundtable meeting is at 3pm.

    Please RSVP to Wendy McDermott (wendy@sanjuancitizens.org) for the workshop by COB this Friday. Lunch is provided by the CWCB!

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


    Durango: The Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 30th annual water seminar April 6

    March 29, 2012

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    From the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District (Jane Maxson) via the Pagosa Sun:

    The Southwestern Water Conservation District will hold its 30th annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, at the Doubletree Hotel, 501 Camino del Rio, Durango.

    This year’s theme is “2012“ — Water Through the Looking Glass,” and we have a lineup of notable speakers who will address water history in Colorado and water issues in the West. Invited speakers include a political analyst, the state’s climatologist and a water policy consultant, among others.

    Registration is $30 in advance and $32 at the door, per person. This fee includes morning and afternoon snacks and a buffet lunch.

    Registration on April 6 begins at 8 a.m. The seminar will conclude approximately 4:30 p.m.

    Registration forms and a draft agenda can be found at our website, http://www.swwcd.org/.


    Snow scientist Chris Landry is doing the science around dust on snow events and snowpack

    March 3, 2012

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    Here’s a look at dust on snow events and their effect on the timing and volume of snowmelt from Eric Ming writing for The Telluride Watch. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado River Basin is losing water at an ever-accelerating rate, and snow scientist Chris Landry wants people to know about it.

    But spend a day with Landry, and you will accumulate more questions than answers: How much snow falls (or doesn’t); how dense and water-laden it is (or isn’t); and is there enough of it to reflect surface radiation back into the atmosphere and preserve it, or is it destined to continue to melt away earlier every coming year?

    Each winter since 2003, Landry, the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, a research organization in Silverton, has been on the job at his two research plots, Swamp Angel and Senator Beck Basin, near the summit of Red Mountain Pass. Here, Landry digs over 100 snow pits over the course of each winter to observe the layers of dust that accumulate on this outlying garrison of Colorado mountain ranges.


    Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations Continue between Reclamation and Colorado

    March 1, 2012

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    Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

    The Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Colorado are continuing negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project. The contract will provide the terms and conditions by which the state will repay the construction costs associated with all or a portion of its statutory allocation of project water. The third negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday August 10, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. at Reclamation’s office, 835 E. 2nd Ave., Suite 300, Durango, Colo. 81301.

    The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water, identify the amount of project construction costs to be paid to the federal government by the state, and provide for operation and maintenance of the project.

    All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website under Current Focus or by contacting Brett Griffin of the Bureau of Reclamation, 835 East Second Avenue, Suite 300, Durango, Colorado, 81301, telephone (970) 385-6531.

    More Animas-La Plata coverage here and here.


    Silverton: River Protection Workgroup for the Animas River to meet Thursday

    February 21, 2012

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    From The Durango Herald:

    The River Protection Workgroup for the Animas River will meet from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Silverton Town Hall.

    The agenda for the meeting is to determine if the information sheet can be approved. To view the sheet, visit http://ocs.fortlewis.edu/riverprotection/animas/pdf/AnimasInfoSheet_January2012.pdf. The workgroup also will discuss, the range of protection tools that have been brainstormed to date. The workgroup will discuss whether protections should be identified for the entire watershed or only the segments found preliminarily suitable for Wild and Scenic River status in the 2007 USFS/BLM Draft Land Management Plan. No final recommendations will be made.

    The purpose of this workgroup is to make recommendations about how to protect values on the Animas River upstream of Bakers Bridge while allowing for suitable water development to continue.

    For more information, call 247-1302, email water@frontier.net, call Steve Fearn at 946-9243, Wendy McDermott at 259-3583, Marsha Porter-Norton at 759-3110 or email porternorton@bresnan.net

    More Animas River coverage here.


    Durango: Smelter Mountain disposal site monitoring well data shows a spike in uranium

    February 18, 2012

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    From The Durango Telegraph (Tracy Chamberlin):

    Readings from one of the wells at the uranium mill tailings disposal site have almost doubled in the past year, according to a report from the Department of Energy, and agency officials don’t know why. “It is high, and we don’t have a good explanation for it at the moment,” said David Shafer, an Environmental Team Leader with the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management, in Grand Junction.

    The last time levels jumped up in 2009, the sight was redeveloped. Subsequently, uranium concentrations dropped. But the numbers began rising again and recently peaked at the highest concentration to date.

    The DOE monitors the groundwater at the disposal site in order to detect any possible leaks from the containment cell and is required to publish an annual report on its maintenance, repair and testing results. In the 2011 Site Inspection and Monitoring Report, uranium levels in a monitoring well located near the northeast corner of the cell were far above standards and have been on the rise for the past year. Levels hovered below the site-specific standard of 0.077 milligrams per liter for most of 2010, but shot past that minimum mark in 2011. They recently hit an all-time high of 0.14 milligrams per liter. Shafer said the most recent reading, taken in the beginning of February, showed the levels back down to the 2009 highs of 0.12 milligrams per liter, but still well above the site standard and the EPA standard, which is 0.004.

    More nuclear coverage here and here.


    Animas-La Plata Project: Colorado and Reclamation are getting close to a deal for storage in Lake Nighthorse

    January 27, 2012

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    From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Columbus Republic:

    Colorado’s Legislature has authorized paying $36 million to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for its share of 10,460 acre-feet of water, plus interest on construction costs. But the interest has been building, and the $36 million likely won’t cover everything Colorado owes.

    The tribes had proposed that Colorado allow its share of water to revert back to the tribes, which weren’t assessed for construction. The tribes would then sell the water back to the state at what they say would be a much lower price than what the state would pay the bureau…

    However, after two years of talking with tribal representatives, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has directed its staff to move forward on contract talks with the Bureau of Reclamation, board director Jennifer Gimbel said.

    Gimbel said the board took the tribes’ proposal “very seriously.” However some board members questioned whether outside parties would challenge the proposal in court. Though legislators have already approved $36 million for project water, some board members also questioned how willing legislators would be in future years to spend on Animas-La Plata project water.

    If you’re interested in Native American issues in the Colorado River Basin please think about attending Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Speakers Series Monday night. The theme for the shindig is, “Unheard Voices of the Colorado River Basin: Bringing Mexico and Native American Tribes to the Table.” It should be a hoot, every presentation in the series so far has been.

    More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


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